Merle Hunt recently stepped down from her role as the Eisteddfod’s International Competitors’ Liaison Officer, but that won’t stop her opening her home and heart to choirs visiting the valley.
I loved competing at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod as a member of the combined Oswestry Girls’ and Boys’ High School choirs, but little did I realise at the time that this love affair was going to become a near lifelong commitment.
I visited the Eisteddfod as part of my higher education to observe excellent examples of cultural dance at first hand and this stood me in good stead when I subsequently embarked upon my teaching career.
Later, as a college lecturer, it was only natural that I should bring my students to Llangollen to enjoy this same unique experience. After spending some 12 years with schools’ inspectorate, I returned to my roots in North Wales.
It was not long before my love of the Eisteddfod was rekindled by hosting members of overseas groups in my home and later helping to organise the allocation of our given group to different homes in the Ceiriog Valley.
I later worked for five years overseeing UK competitors and in 2013 was appointed as International Competitors’ Liaison Officer.
It is always an exhilarating and often humbling experience to have such a range of different nationalities and cultures sharing your home.
We’ve been privileged to host groups from the Canadian First Nation, Punjab, Ukraine, Serbia and Ghana. Such special and unique experiences really do shrink the world.
Overseas groups can opt for hotel, college or homestay accommodation. It is only adults who can choose homestays and usually do because they want to experience the more personal and friendly aspect of residential accommodation. They particularly enjoy having the opportunity to talk about their Eisteddfod experience with hosts and, in many cases, like to practice their English.
Homes usually offer to take at least two guests, who usually come for three or four nights. Each group has their allocated transport and pick up/drop off times and venues are organised to fit in with their performance commitments and home stay locations.
Competitors normally enjoy a Continental style breakfast, including cereals, juice, toast/breads, marmalade and perhaps some ham and cheese. Some homes offer a traditional Welsh Breakfast at some point, but this is entirely voluntary.
There are many exciting events to which hosts are welcomed during the week. On the Thursday evening of Eisteddfod week, all international groups join in the Procession of Nations, which opens the evening concert.
This entails three representatives from each competing country being welcomed on to the Pavilion stage by the President, Sir Terry Waite. The annual, very colourful international Parade of competitor groups through Llangollen is scheduled for 4:30pm on the Friday of Eisteddfod week – always a tremendous spectacle and an occasion not to be missed.
There will also be an international group of competitors staying at the Mulberry Inn, Llwynmawr, during the week so an informal concert in the hotel grounds is given by this group, together with the home stay group. A wonderful evening.
The Eisteddfod pays £15 per head per night to host families providing bed and breakfast. A family ticket is also issued to hosts so that they can pay a visit to the Eisteddfod and hopefully, choose a day when they can see their guests perform in one of their competitions. During the week it is a joy to meet the groups. Their smiles, appreciation of, and gratitude to their hosts are profuse. This makes the whole experience even more satisfying and enjoyable.
It is critical to have enough beds available in the valley to accommodate a single choir or group or dancers and musicians. Additional homes are urgently needed to make this happen.
If you would like to host international guests. offer to help with the organisation or to ask for more details, please contact Sarah Hawkes on firstname.lastname@example.org or call Sarah on 01691 770760.